Five Stories To Follow: New York Cosmos at San Antonio Scorpions

IMAGE, NYCOSMOS.COM

With Championship qualification in the bag, the New York Cosmos now look to secure their slot in the NASL finals.

First, they have to get past the San Antonio Scorpions.

The defending Soccer Bowl champions look to bag their seventh all-time NASL title this Saturday night.  That won’t be an easy task.  Like Minnesota United, the San Antonio Scorpions have been on fire this season, taking the Fall Championship title with a +15 goal differential, scoring 30 goals while conceding 15 in 18 matches.  That late-season rally nearly catapulted the club towards the top of the combined table this year, falling just three points short of United.  It also makes them one of the hottest teams going into the postseason, riding a 4-1-1 record in their last six matches.

What’s worse for the Cosmos?  San Antonio are undefeated in three matches against their New York rivals.

For their part, the Cosmos turned their fortunes after what seemed to be a lost Fall season.  Still, the club has plenty of question marks heading into Toyota Field in Texas.

Here are five stories to follow this weekend:

HOT OR NOT?

While San Antonio have been the model for consistency, the Cosmos have been anything but.

After a dominant showing in the Spring season, injuries to key players and tumult in the starting XI caused New York to limp their way into the postseason.  Yes, recent performances have been more encouraging.  However, they pail in comparison to San Antonio.  The Cosmos are 1-4-2 in their last seven matches.  Of those four draws, two have come in the past three matches.

The Cosmos also finished the Fall season with a -1 goal differential; the first time since their resurrection that they have failed to score more goals than what they allowed.

No matter which sport one chooses to follow, it is always the hot teams that seem to perform well in the postseason.  Can the Cosmos buck their recent woes en route to a spot in the Final?

WILL ROVERSIO PLAY?

Part of the Cosmos’ problems this Fall stem from injuries.  Away from Marcos Senna, none has effected the club more than Roversio’s troubles.

Carlos Mendes continues to turn back the clock, playing a solid role as lead defender at the center of the pitch. Several defenders have filled in admirably in Roversio’s absence.  However, few have been able to play the quiet, calming role of the Brazilian centerback.  That has forced keeper Jimmy Maurer to stray from his steady work between the pipes to a more adventurous and daring role, hoping to slay opportunities before they become solid chances.  That has left him exposed, and allowed opposing offenses to pick apart the Cosmos back third.

Senna’s return in the midfield has added a dangerous element to the Cosmos midfield.  Roversio, at full strength, can do the same.

Whether the chemistry follows is another question entirely.

BREAKING SAN ANTONIO

As the Cosmos backline suffers a loss of identity, the Scorpions defense is as compact and solid as ever.  Jamaican defender Stephen DeRoux is the minutes leader for the club, flanked by the likes of Greg Janicki, Jonathan Borrajo and Julian James.  Adrian Cann scored against the Cosmos last week, but is unlikely to get the start for the playoffs as a veteran laden backline is set to defend their fort.  Richard Menjivar provides a solid box to box presence, solidifying their defensive stance.

All of that spells bad news for New York.  The streaky Mads Stokkelien came into the Cosmos with great promise, but has fallen short of expectations.  A merry-go-round of secondary strikers, including Hans Dennisen, Danny Mwanga and Andres Flores, have each enjoyed promising moments, and insufferable performances as well.  A healthy Diomar Diaz could add width to the attack, stretching the Scorpions backline.  However, it is clear that the Cosmos have been unable to find that right combination through 27 matches this season.

Senna remains the club’s great hope.  Back to full health, the Spanish international will be key, both in possession and distribution, if New York hopes to take down the Scorpions on the road.

ALL ABOUT MADS

With a midfield and backline that has struggled with continuity, the Cosmos will need one dynamic forward to put in goals.

That has to be Mads Stokkelien.

The Norwegian has proven to be a streaky striker, with the ability to both awe and disappoint — at times, within the same match.  In a worst case scenario, New York may find themselves jittery in the backline and discombobulated in the midfield.  That will require some individual magic, and Stokkelien is the only player capable of providing that scorer’s touch.

A TASTE OF THE FUTURE NEW YORK DERBY

Finally, the side story to this entire affair — New York City FC.

What do they have to do with anything?  NYCFC loanee Josh Saunders has become the missing link San Antonio sought to complete their defense.  The former and future MLS star has tallied eight shutouts in just 15 appearances.  Saunders has re-found his MLS Cup winning form thanks to a second-chance opportunity from future coach Jason Kreis.  His presence in the back, along with a steady defensive front, have made the Scorpions a better team since his arrival.

The Cosmos have more than enough on their plate than to worry about a future local rival.  However, Saunders’ NYCFC connection will certainly be an underlying story in this encounter.